The first day of the Valkenburg-Limburg 2018 UCI Cyclo-cross World championships offered the riders a real 'cross course with slippery off-camber sections, multiple running sections and lots of elevation. Big crowds were sidelining the 2900 metres long race course on the famous Cauberg climb to catch every glimpse of the three races that were contested on a cold and grey Saturday. The home country collected three medals on Saturday but missed out on gold on day 1.
Sanne Cant (Belgium) defended her world title in style as she took a solo victory in the Women Elite category on Saturday afternoon.
The mudfest on the flanks of the Cauberg resulted in a thrilling duel between two of cyclo-cross' leading ladies, Cant and Katherine Compton (USA). In a race of four laps with 41 starters from 16 nations, 27 year-old Cant passed early leader Christine Majerus (Luxembourg) at the end of the opening lap. Little later, also Compton passed Majerus as she found a great rhythm on the tough course and during the second lap she clocked the fastest lap of the race. The 39 year-old American rider bridged up with Cant halfway the race. Majerus trailed the two leaders by 32 seconds and found Lucinda Brand (Netherlands) on her tail. The rest of the field seemed out of contention for the medals.
Cant collected a small bonus on the slippery and twisting long descent in front of the casino. Little later, Compton returned and took over the command when Cant started struggling to hold the wheel, slipping away on three occasions. Compton hit the final lap with a bonus of eight seconds on the Belgian rider. Game over? That wasn't the case since Compton was no longer finding the best lines while Cant kept her composure. At the first pit area Cant bridged back up and with a last effort Cant pushed herself just ahead of Compton into the technical descent. Again, she gapped her American rival and this time she was gone for good and grabbed her second rainbow jersey. Twelve seconds later, Compton finished as runner-up at worlds for the fourth time in her long career. Last year, Brand got beaten on the line for third place but this time grabbed the bronze medal, winning a long battle against Majerus.
Women Under 23
Top favourite Evie Richards (Great-Britain) captured a commanding victory in the Women Under 23 category. It's the second world title in this category for the 20 year-old woman from Malvern. Two years ago, Richards won the inaugural world title race in Heusden-Zolder (Belgium).
Forty young women ran and rode three laps on the muddy course, with Emma White (USA) and Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado (Netherlands) charging away early on. Richards had a good start but she slipped away several times and lost contact with the two leaders. Halfway the opening lap, Richards recovered and together with her surprisingly strong compatriot Harriet Harnden, she bridged up with the two leaders. The top favourite kept charging forward and just before the race was halfway she started her solo. With two laps to go, she was 20 seconds ahead of compatriot Harnden and ten more on Emma White.
While Richards had the race under control, a battle for the remaining podium spots unfolded. White faded back and Harnden was passed by early leader Del Carmen Alvarado and Nadja Heigl (Austria). When hitting the final lap, Richards had a late scare due to a shifting problem but her lead was big enough to hold onto her lead and capture a deserving victory. A mud-clad Richards crossed the line with the Union Jack in her hand. Del Carmen Alvarado rode away from Heigl and was more than pleased to be best of the rest on home soil. Heigl captured the bronze medal, well ahead of Harnden.
The Men Junior category kicked off the 2018 world championships on Saturday morning. Ben Tulett - a first-year Junior - surprised by winning the first race of the championships.
Early on, pre-race favourite Loris Rouiller (Switzerland) led the field of 74 riders together with 2017-2018 overall Telenet UCI World Cup winner Tomas Kopecky (Czech Republic). Late in the opening lap, Tulett bridged up to the leaders with a large group. The deep mud started to tire the riders and halfway the four-lap long race, Tulett opened up a big gap over a fading Rouiller and others at the long run-up. Kopecky didn't give up and halfway the penultimate lap the tall Czech quickly closed the 15 seconds gap. The duo hit the final lap with a bonus of nine seconds on Lane Maher (USA). The race was decided when Kopecky struggled in a slippery off-camber section before the first pit area. The 16 year-old British rider made no more mistakes and captured the win. Kopecky grabbed silver at 22 seconds. Ryan Kamp had a great final lap and took the final podium spot at half a minute from winner Tulett.